Some of us remember our baptism. For others we were too young, or it has faded from our memory. I do not remember mine, but I have had the joy of standing in the Jordan River presiding at baptisms and reaffirmations of baptisms, experiencing joy and new chapters of following God.
Baptism is a fascinating sacrament. In it we enter into a new life – into a new community. In it, we also see our own death – a death to an old way of being. Perhaps this is why at some funerals we talk about that person’s baptism “now being complete in death” – the transformation to a new way of being is now full and complete because the old way is completely gone. In so many ways baptism is almost simplistic – common element of water used in a one-time washing. And yet in another way baptism is a complete mystery – it is God at work revealing a new life that is emerging.
Today’s gospel reading speaks of baptism. In both Luke and Acts today we see the transformation from water to fire in preaching and in baptism.
In Acts, Paul is in Corinth. This is a man who is continually in trouble with the law. He is brought before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, who very much like Pilate for Jesus, renounces his own jurisdiction. The Jews claim Paul is “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.” Gallio basically says so what, declaring he doesn’t want to be a judge of Jewish matters. Paul does not repent of his new vows in Christ.
In our travels with Paul, we come across a Jew named Apollos. He is eloquent and well-versed in the scriptures, burning with enthusiasm. We are told that he “spoke accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.” This basically means that he knew his Old Testament and the prophesies regarding the Messiah. But he did not know of Jesus’ arrival.
Pricilla and Aquila pull him aside and “explained the Way of God more accurately.” He becomes a great champion of the faith.
In Luke we hear the tale of the baptism of Jesus, as well as John’s proclamations about baptism. “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Remember that Luke wrote both Luke and the book of Acts. He very well may have in mind a connection here. John speaks of water and fire. He seems to know intrinsically that someone like Jesus is coming. Apollos has the same ideas. He knows a Messiah is coming. He had been preaching that – with fire, although he knows not the name of Jesus.
Acts is a fantastical story. It has mystery and intrigue. It provides for this almost mysterious transformation and spreading of the gospel. Like a good virus, there seems to be no way to stop this either. Even Apollos knows what is coming, and he is from Alexandria. It appears the good news will spread to all the ends of the earth.
What is interesting about Acts is that by the books end, it does not spread to the ends of the earth. But yet, here we are reading this story in yet another corner of the globe. By stories end, we ourselves are thrust into the story, left wondering, “So now it is your turn. What’s next?”
Very much like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, we become a part of the story.
How does your baptism by fire and water affect the trajectory of your story? What is your baptism driving you to do?